Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time



[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

As I mentioned in the Gonna Raise Hell post about my first five concerts, Cheap Trick was the first band I ever saw live, in May 1980. These Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductees are still delivering their unique brand of post-Beatles power-pop to adoring audiences more than 37 years later, incredibly sounding as vital as they ever did (in spite of their somewhat acrimonious split with original drummer Bun E. Carlos, who was replaced by guitarist/songwriter Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx). Like most music fans of my generation, I was introduced to Rockford, Illinois’ finest via their 1979 multi-platinum live album, Cheap Trick At Budokan. Two years earlier they released their stunning self-titled debut album, as well as its equally strong follow-up, in the same calendar year. It’s hard enough to record two classics in succession, but to do so at the beginning of their career is proof that they were (and are) a special band. I already wrote about Cheap Trick in Part 2 of my Great Out Of The Gate series, which I’ve copied here, and that’s followed by some thoughts on their sophomore album.

Like most people in my age group, I was introduced to the music of Cheap Trick via their 1978 At Budokan live album. Two years later in May 1980, just shy of my 14th birthday, they were the first band I saw in concert, on the Dream Police tour at Madison Square Garden. By then I owned all four of their studio albums, but for some reason it took several more years before I fully appreciated their self-titled debut. It’s a little darker and rougher around the edges than the records that followed, but all the elements that would soon make the world fall in love with them are already evident: Robin Zander’s powerful & passionate vocals, Rick Nielsen’s quirky lead guitar, sneering backing vocals and uniquely twisted songs and the inventive & propulsive rhythm section of bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos. They were already delivering catchy melodies but most of the songs have a harder edge than anything on the next few records. “Elo Kiddies” has a bouncy glam-rock stomp and “Oh, Candy” is classic power-pop; these two are what most people would expect from Cheap Trick. Otherwise, “Hot Love” and “He’s A Whore” are fueled by punk energy, and both “Mandocello” & “Taxman, Mr. Thief” are intense, slow-burning rockers. This album was also my introduction to the underrated talent of Terry Reid, whose “Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace” they cover here. Cheap Trick might seem like a dark horse in their early catalog, possibly due to the fact that none of its songs were included on At Budokan (and only two were performed at the concert), but it’s every bit as strong as their most commercially successful albums.


Song-for-song their sophomore release, In Color, is every bit as strong as its predecessor. There’s a reason more than half the tracks on the aforementioned Cheap Trick At Budokan originated on this album. If there’s any complaint about In Color it’s Tom Werman’s production, which buffs away all of the debut’s edges to a polished pop sheen, but this is a minor issue and it’s likely the record company encouraged this approach in search of a radio hit. The most famous song here is “I Want You To Want Me.” It’s the only one that was significantly improved with a punchier live arrangement but I still enjoy the lighter studio version. Chugging album opener “Hello There,” with its “are you ready to rock?” refrain, became the ideal way to kick off their shows. “Come On, Come On” packs a tight, punchy melody in the verses and call-and-response vocals between Zander & Nielsen in the choruses. “Big Eyes” is carried along by a tom tom-heavy drum pattern & Nielsen’s crunchy guitar riff. The driving melodic rocker “Clock Strikes Ten,” which closed out the Budokan show, remains one of their finest achievements, with the repeated “Imagine what we’re doing tonight…” section being a particularly strong hook. The peppy, finger-snapping, power-chord-driven “Southern Girls” is an album (and career) highlight that was inexplicably omitted from the original Budokan. Bun E. Carlos’ pulsating drum groove and Zander pleading “Please don’t go, please don’t go away from me” make “You’re All Talk” another standout track. Two gems round out the highlights for me: “Oh Caroline” and album closer “So Good To See You.” Both tracks showcase their gifts for melodic hooks and rock & roll punch. Cheap Trick would follow up In Color with two or three more near-perfect studio albums (depending on your feelings about 1980’s George Martin-produced All Shook Up, which I love), so their winning streak wasn’t limited to the first two, but I continue to be awed by the way they introduced themselves to the world in 1977. These records still sound vital four decades on thanks to “the magnetism of Robin Zander” and “the charisma of Rick Nielsen” (courtesy of Mike Damone from Fast Times At Ridgemont High), not to mention that world-class rhythm section of Tom Petersson & Bun E. Carlos.


26 comments on “Forty Year Friday – CHEAP TRICK “CHEAP TRICK” AND “IN COLOR”

  1. deKE
    June 9, 2017

    Two great writeup’s Rich!
    It’s funny that the debut is indeed the dark horse. Ello Kiddies is an exceptional track as is the whole debut. To me its the angry Cheap Trick album.
    In Color is great as well and I love the gimmick of having the two cool guys on the cover and the two nerd’s on the back!
    Great marketing strategy! Heaven Tonight and the Budokan album followed this format….
    Once again fantastic reads!


    • Thanks, Derek. After taking a week off from this series I had to return with a 2-fer, and they don’t get much better than these two. I agree about the cool guys/nerds juxtaposition. That was a great gimmick that really worked for them. I think there’s always some anger in Nielsen’s songwriting, but it came through a lot more directly on the debut.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. mikeladano
    June 9, 2017

    I think this weekend, I shall buy one of these albums.


  3. kevin
    June 9, 2017

    Cheap Trick’s debut is a classic, and my favorite of theirs. “Oh, Candy” not only is my favorite CT song, it is one of my all-time favorite songs by any artist. Perfect power-pop song (that owes a little to Big Star). I was a little disappointed in In Color, but I haven’t heard it in ages. Suppose I should revisit. These guys are always dependable for at least a couple of great songs per album. Rockford (’06) was especially good, from their post glory days.output.

    Btw, congrats on your anniversary. Ten years. Well done.


    • Hi Kevin. I’m glad we have another album in common with Cheap Trick’s debut. For a long time I felt the same way as you about In Color, but I eventually realized my opinion was clouded a bit by the not-as-good-as-the-Budokan-version of “I Want You To Want Me,” which somehow made the album seem weaker. It may be smoother than the debut but song-for-song it’s just as good. Well worth revisiting & re-evaluating. I agree with your assessment of Rockford, and the fact that all of their latter-day albums have several great songs. Plus, they still sound great live, including the seemingly ageless Robin Zander.

      Thanks for the anniversary wishes. We had a nice time for a few days in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, our first vacation with our cat.

      Have a great weekend.


  4. stephen1001
    June 10, 2017

    Not a bad way to kick off a career, a pair of keepers in their first year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • These two are just the beginning of what I consider to be a 5-album winning streak, and that doesn’t even include their iconic live album. Some fans lost interest after Dream Police but I think their golden era lasted for one more album.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Alyson
    June 10, 2017

    You know what – I don’t think they made much of an impact over here and I only know their hit song I Want You To Want Me. Not an album or band we have in common this week I’m afraid.

    Glad you had a nice holiday – Very slowly working my way round the states over at my place so will be some time before I get to those Outer Banks of North Carolina but they sound really interesting.


    • I have a Scottish friend who saw Cheap Trick during this era at a small club and he said they were fantastic, but I’m guessing they didn’t break through there at least until after the Budokan live album. A lot of women I know love this band, possibly because of the two good-looking fellas on the front cover of In Color and its follow-up, but also because of the instantly catchy tunes. I would be surprised if you didn’t find songs to love beyond “I Want You To Want Me.”

      The Outer Banks was lovely and I look forward to going back at some point. It took us less than 4 hours to get there but it felt like we were in another time zone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        June 13, 2017

        What can I say – Missed out on those two good-looking fellas and their music whilst being too busy listening to Elvis Costello, and dancing to songs by the Bee Gees. My loss obviously.

        Like the sound of the Outer Banks – You don’t always have to go far to really get away from it all.


      • I always liked their gimmick of the two good-looking dudes on one side and the two “geeks” on the other, which was never more drastic than on the In Color packaging.

        I believe David Lee Roth once said something about music critics not liking Van Halen but fawning over Elvis Costello because they all looked like the latter. Not sure what this has to do with your comment but you mentioned EC so I decided to bring it up.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        June 14, 2017

        It has everything to do with my comment but I didn’t think about it that way when I wrote it – I was being subconsciously insightful maybe!


      • You were certainly more insightful than Mr. Roth, who once described Van Halen’s music as “a cross between religion and hockey.” 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  6. keepsmealive
    June 11, 2017

    Fantastic pieces, Rich! This a band I need to get deeper into, I know it. We have Dream Police and Budokan, and that’s it (I think). You remind me I wanna hear more. Cheers!


    • Thanks, Aaron. If you already like those two albums you’ll likely find a lot to love on the three albums that preceded them (and possibly All Shook Up, which I consider an integral part of their golden era.


  7. J.
    June 11, 2017

    Great post, Rich. I actually haven’t heard these, though after buying Dream Police and falling in love with it I expected I’d have bought a couple more by now.


    • Thanks, J. Since you’ve already fallen in love with Dream Police I think you’ll find a lot to love on the three studio albums that preceded it and, as I previously mentioned, the follow-up (All Shook Up, produced by George Martin) is fantastic. Please let me know if any of them ever finds its way into your collection.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. 1537
    June 11, 2017

    Wonderful stuff. The debut has become my favourite over the years, like a punk Beatles.


  9. 80smetalman
    June 12, 2017

    Kind of like you, I was first introduced to Cheap Trick via the At Budokan album and then I got Dream Police. There are some good tunes on this one though.


    • I’m glad I went back to the first three albums after discovering them via At Budokan and Dream Police. I may not have the same emotional connection to them but they’re all jam-packed with great songs. I love how fans of various genres love Cheap Trick. That’s one of many things that makes them such a special band.

      Liked by 1 person

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